Cars traveling on Interstate 244 became world-famous as a crowd of about 200 people gathered in the middle of the highway and Vernon AME Church on Monday to commemorate the day a hundred years ago the church was almost destroyed.
The Rev. Robert Turner, pastor of the church - one of the buildings that partially survived the massacre in the Tulsa area of Greenwood where a mob of whites killed hundreds of black civilians in 1921 - dedicated a wall of prayer to the victims. .
"This is the biggest criminal case in America that has never been investigated," he said.
Turner's speech, along with other religious leaders, was part of a series of ceremonies to mark the centenary of the massacre known as the Black Wall Street, which is now gaining national attention.
Although the memorial is sad, many here have said they are determined to celebrate the culture and community formed by the Black Tulsans - while using this moment to demand payment for everything taken from them.
Viola Fletcher survivor receives flowers during a ceremony to hand over land to victims of the Tulsa massacre at Stone Hill 100 in Tulsa, Okla., Monday Andrew Cabbalero-Reynolds / AFP - Getty Images
Mayor G.T. Bynum, standing on the sidewalk along Greenwood Avenue looking at the monument on Monday, told NBC News that it was important for the city to engage in a proper process to find the future of Greenwood, where the vast land is now under the city. The city has faced criticism for not prioritizing survivors of the genocide and their descendants in the reconstruction of Greenwood.
"Anything that happens needs to be a community-driven effort," Bynum said. "It's very important to us that whatever we end up seeing happen here, that the public is as proud of it, just as the public was proud of Black Wall Street."
Tulsa residents want more business opportunities, Black ownership
Monday's memorial began with a solemn ceremony in which a series of 100 large jars, each labeled "Unknown" to represent the victims of the massacre whose names were not written, were filled to the brim with speakers and attendees.
"We like to think of the land, the earth, as one of the tangible reminders of what happened," said Kiara Boone, deputy director of public education at the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-racial justice organization. "The situation in Tulsa has changed for a hundred years, but the resilience, strength, and love of this community remains the same."
By Monday afternoon, most of the art stalls selling the art and monuments had left, as the rain was heavy. But the crowd is still gathering under the Greenwood business weddings, and many people line up under the street across the street to find a plate full of barbecue. Among them was Harold Dorsey, who returned to Tulsa, where he had spent most of his life, a hundred years.
You can't ignore the effects of the highways in Greenwood, says Dorsey, and he's worried that his neighborhood won't be able to return to what it used to be. Dorsey said there are a lot of black black entrepreneurs in Tulsa who would like to set up businesses here - if the city gives them a chance. "It will cost a lot of money," he said.
A few hundred people gathered on Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street in the cold night air in a vigil to commemorate the occasion hundreds of years ago when a white mob plundered a prosperous Black area, killed hundreds and displaced thousands more. Violence escalated the next day, culminating in the looting of black homes, and armed white mobs gathered the survivors into a concentration camp.
10.30pm On Monday, the streetlights are black as the “Hallelujah” choir spread throughout the crowd turned into a growing “Greenwood”. The rain continued to fall, as happened almost all day, causing many to turn to the person next to them to help keep their light going.
"The evidence is in the pudding," Guy Troupe, co-owner of the Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge, a coffee shop south of the rest of Greenwood's historic business district, said on Friday. "What matters is what happens six months, a year, two years from now," he said, referring to negotiations on equity and reimbursement.
Like many others here, Troupe sees how little Greenwood seed it has in the future of the world. He is one of many who have called on Tulsa leaders to acknowledge the city's involvement in the massacre and in the decades to come the reconstruction and urbanization that has devastated strong communities and rebuilt Black businesses. As the city reconstructs the vacant Greenwood spaces and buildings, Troupe is also among the many residents who ask the city to consider this history when deciding who can rent their own land in Greenwood.
A woman holds her daughter in the corner of Greenwood and Archer during memorial services on Saturday ahead of the 100th anniversary of the massacre at Tulsa.
Monica Smith, 59, a Black resident, said she had little hope that the town of Tulsa would commit to making Greenwood prosperous again.
“They need to stand by their word,” he said.
Smith said he went out to Greenwood on Saturday to show his support for Black pride and planning. "This is amazing," he said before joining the song "I Love Being Black!"
Graham Lee Brewer reported from Tulsa; Elizabeth Chuck reported from New York.